Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Character Game

Everyone likes games - even our fictional characters.

Several years back, I took a writing class at Bay Path Vocational School, where a local author - and I feel awful because I don't recall her name - gave a 12-week writing evening class. There were two exercises that she had us do in a group that I have used countless times since. The one people still send me emails for copies of is The Character Game or The Character Autopsy.

It's basically a "getting to know you" questionnaire you ask your characters. The best way to play this game - and it works especially well for anyone with roleplaying experience - is to have someone else ask you the questions, and you answer in your character's voice.

I've moderated online chats with just The Character Game for my DragonWriters writing group and with other writing friends/colleagues, which are particularly effective. Why? Because it's already easy to assume a different identity online - and, we often let ourselves get sidetracked from the questions and interact with each other, leading to further discovery about these strange people living in our heads.

It's especially entertaining when you've got characters from different genres - like my contemporary fantasy paladin caught in the Apocalypse and Aimee's chick lit, ex-pat book-club lady in an unsatisfying marriage.

Rather than talk about it further, I'll share the game with you. Play it with your characters. Play it with friends. Play it with your friends' characters.

You'll thank your characters for playing when you uncover more than you ever thought you wanted to know about them.

*The handout cites "UCLA MFA Screenwriting" with an instructor of Neil Landau from 2/2002 as this game's origination.

What is your full name?
How old are you?
What is your favorite item of clothing or personal item?
What is your favorite room in your house? Why?
You walk into a restaurant (or bar, if your world has them/allows you to drink)... what do you order to drink?
What do you consider to be your best physical feature/s?
And what is your worst physical feature/s - either looks or usefulness?
What is your worst vice or habit?
At the start of the story, what is your highest priority?

Who are you closest to in your family (meaning your blood relatives)?
Who do you call in an emergency?
Who in your circle of family & friends could most likely betray you? Why?
Have you ever committed a crime? What was it? And did you get caught?
You find a wallet containing $500 cash (or equivalent), and an i.d. What do you do?
Do you have any pet peeves?

What do you consider to be your biggest/greatest weakness?
What do you consider to be your greatest strength?
Were/are you a good student or learner?
Were/are you popular among your peers?
What is your credo/philosophy in life?
What is the biggest misconception about you?
What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far?
Have you had any key regrets in your life?
Have you ever been in love? If so, when and with whom?
What is your faith or religion, if you have any? How does it define you (if at all)?
Do you have a secret? Something you've never told anyone or perhaps only a select few?
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
What is your ultimate wish for you life - if you could have or do anything?

What do you hate most about yourself?
What is your innermost core fear? Why does that frighten you?

Put your character into the moment of his/her/its innermost fear and ask him/her/it these questions:

1. What do you need?
2. Who do you call?
3. Do you feel desperate & needy? Are you ashamed to feel that way or do you feel entitled to those feelings?
4. What must you do some day before you die?
Feel free to share some of your characters' answers in the comments!


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